The Petroleum Engineering Curriculum – Required Courses and Classes

petroleum engineering curriculumA bachelor’s degree in Petroleum Engineering at leading institutions has a curriculum designed to develop the knowledge and skills of students so that they can successfully perform their job as petroleum engineers. Most programs are designed to address the evolving needs of the industry while establishing the core fundamentals necessary for a firm grasp of the key implementation and study requirements in the field. Additionally, there are curriculum options that allow students to focus on areas of interest in the energy industry, which they can research and possibly use as a base for further graduate level work.

Curriculum for Bachelors in Petroleum Engineering

Bachelor’s level programs are structured to cover both core and elective requirements. The core petroleum engineering curriculum first addresses the foundation requirements which cover science, mathematics, and technology in a multidisciplinary team environment. This will develop the necessary qualifications and skillsets prior to the core petroleum engineering courses. These are usually known as the general education requirements and typical courses will include advanced mathematics, geology, computer science, chemistry, physics as well as humanities and communication skills.

The second set of core requirements is focused on developing the key disciplines involved in petroleum engineering as defined by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). This includes a focus on experimental analysis, complex problem solving and developing an appreciation for the environmental, health and safety, ethical and social issues that need to be addressed in the field.

The first component generally includes engineering fundamentals with courses that cover such areas as applied mechanics, fluid and rock engineering, thermodynamics, reservoir engineering, oil recovery techniques, well simulation and testing, as well as production.

There is also the core resources track that covers such things as sustainable energy management, subsurface fluid mechanics and environmental management. Students are then given the chance to choose electives in fields of interest that can include 3D structural modeling for reservoirs, geological formations, seismology and tectonics, as well as carbon sequestration techniques, energy optimization and renewable energy.

Additionally, there are classes on economic costs of field development and hydrocarbon projects, financial feasibility analysis, as well as computer programming and simulation modeling for detailed analytical review. All these courses are conducted in a classroom and laboratory setting with opportunities for research, as well as site visits to drilling field operations, petroleum research facilities and geological study sites. Most programs also offer internship opportunities at oil & gas companies to build better real world knowledge and augment classroom principles.

Masters in Petroleum Engineering Courses

At the graduate level, a Masters of Science in Petroleum Engineering can be obtained once a bachelor’s degree has been obtained. However, most universities will recognize bachelor’s degrees in other engineering disciplines on the condition that the student commit to additional coursework, specifically to cover the fundamentals of petroleum engineering.

Core Petroleum Engineering Classes & Electives

The master’s program classes generally include two levels with the first being considered a core requirement for all students. This includes courses such as well test and log analysis, reservoir engineering, multiphase flow fundamentals, reservoir flow modeling, equilibrium thermodynamics and advanced differential equations.

Then there is the second level, which includes elective courses. These can be selected based on the student’s stated preferences and research interests. Common areas addressed include crustal fluids, enhanced recovery techniques, well appraisal, geostatistics, reservoir modeling and optimization, geophysics and geothermal studies, as well as environmental management techniques and renewable energy options.

Mentorship from School Faculty

In addition, a mentor from the faculty is assigned to the student to design his or her coursework to meet his or her specific study and research requirements. Research areas include advanced geomechanics, unconventional oil and gas, shale oil and gas, horizontal and multilateral wells, drilling mechanics and natural gas engineering to mention a few.

These research projects include both on campus, as well as off site visits at relevant research institutes and development sites. This research requirement for the Masters in Petroleum Engineering at most universities can be achieved by following one of two tracks of courses.

First track includes the research and defense of a scholarly thesis. The research for this thesis should be original and address either new areas of development in petroleum engineering, or new alternative techniques which could yield better improvements in the design and development of extraction and production processes.

Second track focuses primarily on course requirements without the need for a thesis. However, instead of the thesis, a research project has to be developed to supplement course requirements in order to achieve the required competencies for achieving the master’s degree. This research project can be taken in an area of study chosen by the student which addresses a particular problem in the field.

In both cases, depending on the interests of the student, they can choose to further their education by pursuing a Doctorate in their chosen field of study or research. If their goal is to focus on the academic and research aspects of petroleum engineering, then a Doctorate would make sense.

Combined Bachelors and Master’s Degree in Petroleum Engineering

Some universities also offer a combined program which typically allows a student to obtain both a bachelors and master’s degree in Petroleum Engineering. This typically happens on a reduced time frame which is usually five years rather than six years.

Generally, this involves transitioning during bachelor’s level to master’s level courses around the sophomore year, and mentoring by a faculty member to design an effective petroleum engineering curriculum. The curriculum is designed to incorporate the core fundamentals of both the bachelors and master’s degree programs, while providing options to focus on research and study electives earlier in the program. This way, students can choose their bachelor electives with their master level program requirements in mind, which will ensure a more productive study program and an accelerated time frame for achievement of both degrees.

The combined program is very challenging and is taken up by those students seeking an aggressive schedule to complete educational requirements, so that they are better prepared to take on key positions in petroleum engineering.

In fact, prospective companies look favorably at such students as they will have a greater comprehension of the key fundamentals and mechanics of the field, and will be better resources to utilize in their projects. This results in their placement of these candidates at a more advanced level in the organization with greater responsibilities as well as salary.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are core competencies that are part of both the bachelors and masters curriculum that all aspiring petroleum engineers will have to complete sooner or later. If this isn’t exciting enough for you, then you will have an opportunity to choose courses, or electives, that are more aligned with your interests.